Archive for the ‘hunger’ Category

Food, Crops, Subsidies and Hunger in the Global Economy

November 17, 2008

This spring, disaster loomed in the global food market. Precipitous increases in the prices of staples like rice (up more than a hundred and fifty per cent in a few months) and maize provoked food riots, toppled governments, and threatened the lives of tens of millions. But the bursting of the commodity bubble eased those pressures, and food prices, while still high, have come well off the astronomical levels they hit in April. For Americans, the drop in commodity prices has put a few more bucks in people’s pockets; in much of the developing world, it may have saved many from actually starving. So did the global financial crisis solve the global food crisis?

By James Surowiecki
The New Yorker

Temporarily, perhaps. But the recent price drop doesn’t provide any long-term respite from the threat of food shortages or future price spikes. Nor has it reassured anyone about the health of the global agricultural system, which the crisis revealed as dangerously unstable. Four decades after the Green Revolution, and after waves of market reforms intended to transform agricultural production, we’re still having a hard time insuring that people simply get enough to eat, and we seem to be more vulnerable to supply shocks than ever.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Over the past two decades, countries around the world have moved away from their focus on “food security” and handed market forces a greater role in shaping agricultural policy. Before the nineteen-eighties, developing countries had so-called “agricultural marketing boards,” which would buy commodities from farmers at fixed prices (prices high enough to keep farmers farming), and then store them in strategic reserves that could be used in the event of bad harvests or soaring import prices. But in the eighties and nineties, often as part of structural-adjustment programs imposed by the I.M.F. or the World Bank, many marketing boards were eliminated or cut back, and grain reserves, deemed inefficient and unnecessary, were sold off. In the same way, structural-adjustment programs often did away with government investment in and subsidies to agriculture—most notably, subsidies for things like fertilizers and high-yield seeds.

People try to catch fish at flooded rice fields in Me Linh district ... 
People try to catch fish at flooded rice fields in Me Linh district in Hanoi, Vietnam, Monday, Nov. 10, 2008. The floods have ruined many of the area’s crops.(AP Photo/Chitose Suzuki)

The logic behind these reforms was simple: the market would allocate resources more efficiently than government, leading to greater productivity. Farmers, instead of growing subsidized maize and wheat at high cost, could concentrate on cash crops, like cashews and chocolate, and use the money they made to buy staple foods. If a country couldn’t compete in the global economy, production would migrate to countries that could. It was also assumed that, once governments stepped out of the way, private investment would flood into agriculture, boosting performance. And international aid seemed a more efficient way of relieving food crises than relying on countries to maintain surpluses and food-security programs, which are wasteful and costly.

This “marketization” of agriculture has not, to be sure, been fully carried through. Subsidies are still endemic in rich countries and poor, while developing countries often place tariffs on imported food, which benefit their farmers but drive up prices for consumers. And in extreme circumstances countries restrict exports, hoarding food for their own citizens.

Related:
Vietnam to grow genetically modified crops

Read the rest:
http://www.newyorker.com/talk/financial/2008/11/2
4/081124ta_talk_surowiecki

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Afghanistan at the crossroads: Drought, food crisis drive Afghans out of villages

November 10, 2008

KABUL, Afghanistan, November 10 (UNHCR) – Severe drought and food shortages have caused thousands of people to leave their villages in Afghanistan’s north and west to find work and aid. Many more are expected to move in desperation as winter approaches.

Provinces such as Badghis, Faryab, Jawzjan, Ghor, Saripul, Balkh and Samangan have been hard hit by a harsh winter earlier this year, followed by a debilitating drought and poor harvest. The production of wheat – an Afghan staple – is reportedly down by 36 percent compared to last year, while the Ministry of Agriculture has said the country is facing a deficit of 2 million tonnes of mixed food items over the next six months.

Soaring global food prices have exacerbated the problem of food insecurity. A UN appeal in July reported that the prices of wheat and wheat flour have gone up by 200 percent countrywide over the past year. The worst affected people are the small farmers, landless people, nomads and casual labourers.

“There’s no rain this year,” complains Qadir, 25, who left his village in Balkh three months ago to find work in Kabul. “Back home, I own a plot of rain-fed land and grew wheat on it. It’s small but was enough to feed my family – until the drought. I just left the land. It’s useless.”

Saifullah, 30, chips in, “The drought has affected hundreds of families in Samangan. We cultivated seeds but couldn’t get a harvest or recoup our money. We’re all leaving.”

Momin, 18, is from Charken village in Balkh province, where he supports a family of six people. “My whole neighbourhood is affected. In the past, we could work on our farms. But now, people are going to Mazar-e-Sharif or Kabul to find jobs,” he says.

The three men have joined hundreds of others at Charahi Sarai Shomali, a busy roundabout in northern Kabul located beside a bus station that plies the route between Kabul and the northern provinces. They come here early every morning and wait for potential employers to pick them up for daily-wage labour, mostly on construction sites. They make US$3-US$4 a day and work three to four days a week on average.

To save up for their families, it’s not unusual for more than 10 of these migrant workers to share one room in Kabul. The living is rough, but at least they have some income and a roof over their heads – unlike the thousands of others who have been displaced by the drought and shortage of food and water.

The numbers of the drought-displaced vary. The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre estimates that more than 6,500 Afghans have left their homes in the north and west as a result of the drought this year. The International Committee of the Red Cross believes some 280,000 people are suffering from its effects, and that thousands of families could leave their homes in search of food and work as winter looms.

In the last six months, UNHCR has reported the displacement of more than 2,700 families (approximately 19,000 people), mostly from or within Badghis, Balkh, Saripul and Samangan provinces. Some have gone to district centres like Mazar-e-Sharif, to nearby provinces like Herat, or to neighbouring countries such as Iran and Pakistan. All were forced to move because of food insecurity, drought or poverty.

Some families leaving Keshendeh district in Balkh dismantled their houses, indicating they had no intention to return. Those who remain said that without food and water assistance, 70 percent of the population – or some 500 families – could leave the area. UNHCR is working with other UN agencies and the government to start bringing water tankers as soon as possible.

“Meeting humanitarian needs in areas of origin is the best way to prevent food and drought-related displacement,” said Ewen Macleod, the UN refugee agency’s acting representative in Afghanistan. “This means pre-positioning aid before snow and the cold weather cut off access to some of these areas.”

Returnees have been affected too, including 183 families who returned from Pakistan to Saripul last year and recently left again for Quetta in south-western Pakistan. In the central Afghan provinces of Logar and Ghazni, food insecurity meant that returnees were too busy trying to support themselves to complete construction on their UNHCR-funded shelters. The agency worked with the World Food Programme to provide food to 700 families so that they could focus on finishing their homes before the onset of winter.

The largest recent displacement took place in Balkh, where 1,400 families left their homes in Alborz in late May and set up a makeshift camp beside a river in Sholgara district. After weeks of talks between the community, government and UN agencies, the families were transported back to their villages in mid-July, where they received food rations.

As security deteriorates in parts of the country, the UN has appealed for humanitarian access to allow aid workers to distribute food to needy communities ahead of winter. A recent report by British think tank, the Royal United Services Institute, warned that a looming famine in Afghanistan could pose a greater threat to international efforts to rebuild the country than the conflict there.

Desperation defies definition. Whether driven by hunger, thirst or poverty, thousands of Afghans are moving in an effort to survive. Asked if he plans to return home to Balkh soon, Momin the young job seeker in Kabul sighs, “If you have money, you miss your family. If you have no money, you can’t afford to miss them. You need to do something to help them.”

His friend Abdul Qadir, also from Balkh, adds simply, “If things get worse in Afghanistan, I’ll have to go to Pakistan again.”

By Vivian Tan
in Kabul, Afghanistan

Myanmar Activists Sorry to Lose Laura Bush

November 2, 2008

First Lady has been a bright light for human rights; especially in Myanmar…

From the Associated Press

WASHINGTON —  Activists opposing the military-run junta will lose a powerful ally in January when first lady Laura Bush moves out of the White House.

Voter dissatisfaction with President George W. Bush’s Republican Party could also cost them Myanmar’s fiercest congressional critic in Mitch McConnell. The Senate’s top Republican is battling to retain his seat in the face of Democrats intent on bolstering their control of Congress with a strong showing in Tuesday’s elections.

 

US First Lady Laura Bush, seen here October 13, 2008 at the ...
Laura Bush (L) with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
(AFP/File/Mandel Ngan)

 

Laura Bush and McConnell — who heads the panel responsible for financing international programs — have used their high profiles to draw attention to human rights abuses in Myanmar and the 13-year detention of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. They also have won tough sanctions aimed at isolating Myanmar, also known as Burma.

Activists in the country say her support has been invaluable.

“The world takes an interest in Myanmar’s ethnic issues because of her,” said Han Tha Myint, a spokesman for Myanmar’s opposition National League for Democracy. “It is moral support for us even though we are not clear how much of the support can translate into change.”

Three Buddhist monks pray at a pagoda in Twantay, near the former ...
Three Buddhist monks pray at a pagoda in Twantay, near the former capital of Myanmar, Yangon, on October 19. Six months since Cyclone Nargis lashed the secretive state of Myanmar – killing 138,000 people – the initial despair over the ruling junta’s inaction has been replaced by cautious optimism that more aid is reaching the country’s needy, the UN has said.(AFP/File/Khin Maung Win)

Read the rest:
http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,445969,00.html

Food Shortages, Global Hunger Pushing Nations

April 19, 2008

By David R. Sands
The Washington Times
April 19, 2008
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China next week is doubling taxes on fertilizer exports to ensure supplies for domestic farmers. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak ordered the army to start baking bread after deadly riots broke out in lines people waiting for food. Oil-rich Libya is discussing a deal to essentially rent a chunk of land-rich Ukraine on which it can grow its own wheat.
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With food and fuel prices soaring, the world’s haves and have-nots are not waiting for the free market or global institutions such as the World Bank to make sure their people have enough to eat.

A soldier delivers a bag containing food supplies to a man as ...
A soldier delivers a bag containing food supplies to a man as part of a government aid program in a shanty town on the outskirts of Lima early April 16, 2008.(Enrique Castro-Mendivil/Reuters)
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“A lot of countries are in trouble right now,” said Lester Brown, veteran environmentalist and president of the Washington-based Earth Policy Institute. “We’re seeing various efforts made by countries to ensure they have the food inputs they need.”
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Soaring prices for wheat, rice, corn, palm oils and other staples have sparked food riots and reports of hoarding on four continents. Haitian Prime Minister Jacques Edouard Alexis was forced to step down last week because of violence linked to higher food costs, and U.N. and World Bank officials warn that more unrest is likely.
A Somali women carries a sack of food aid on her head to her ...
A Somali women carries a sack of food aid on her head to her makeshift home on the road along the Juba river in southern Somalia near the village of Jamame December 6, 2006. A cholera outbreak in Kenya has killed 67 people so far this year, while a fungus has wiped out up to 20 percent of the country’s annual rice production, United Nations agencies said on Friday.REUTERS/Stephen Morrison/Pool

Read the rest:
http://www.washingtontimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20080419/FOREIGN/660699805/1001

China’s Population of Severely Poor Equal To Entire U.S. Population

January 13, 2008
January 13, 2008
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YANGMIAO, China — When she gets sick, Li Enlan, 78, picks herbs from the woods that grow nearby instead of buying modern medicines. This is not the result of some philosophical choice, though. She has never seen a doctor and, like many residents of this area, lives in a meager barter economy, seldom coming into contact with cash.
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 “We eat somehow, but it’s never enough,” Ms. Li said. “At least we’re not starving.”In this region of southern Henan Province, in village after village, people are too poor to heat their homes in the winter and many lack basic comforts like running water. Mobile phones, a near ubiquitous symbol of upward mobility throughout much of this country, are seen as an impossible luxury.
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People here often begin conversations with a phrase that is still not uncommon in today’s China: “We are poor.”

Read the rest:
http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/13/
world/asia/13china.html

Central Vietnam facing food shortage

August 17, 2007

 Based Upon Reports from Communist Vietnam
August 17, 2007

Some one million people face food shortages in central Vietnam until the rice harvest early next year after the worst floods in decades, government officials have said.

74 people have died and nine are missing and feared dead after a storm dumped heavy rain during the first ten days of August in Ha Tinh and Quang Binh provinces.

Ha Tinh has reported the worst floods in 50 years with 29 deaths, 14 of them children.

Residents in the neighbouring province of Quang Binh, where 15 died, have also lost all food stocks and fresh rice supplies.

Storms and typhoons often strike Vietnam from August to October.

Last year, ten storms hit the country and about 500 people were killed by floods and landslides.